“The Map of Salt and Stars” Review

A person stands in the desert looking up at the night sky which is full of stars. The author's name is at the top of cover with the title of the book underneath. The top and sides of the cover are beige with geometric shapes in various shades of blue all along the cover. Written by Zeyn Joukhadar
Published by Atria Books, May 2018
368 pages
Completed July 11, 2024

It is the summer of 2011, and Nour has just lost her father to cancer. Her mother, a cartographer who creates unusual, hand-painted maps, decides to move Nour and her sisters from New York City back to Syria to be closer to their family. But the country Nour’s mother once knew is changing, and it isn’t long before protests and shelling threaten their quiet Homs neighborhood. When a shell destroys Nour’s house and almost takes her life, she and her family are forced to choose: stay and risk more violence or flee as refugees across seven countries of the Middle East and North Africa in search of safety. As their journey becomes more and more challenging, Nour’s idea of home becomes a dream she struggles to remember and a hope she cannot live without.

More than eight hundred years earlier, Rawiya, sixteen and a widow’s daughter, knows she must do something to help her impoverished mother. Restless and longing to see the world, she leaves home to seek her fortune. Disguising herself as a boy named Rami, she becomes an apprentice to al-Idrisi, who has been commissioned by King Roger II of Sicily to create a map of the world. In his employ, Rawiya embarks on an epic journey across the Middle East and the north of Africa where she encounters ferocious mythical beasts, epic battles, and real historical figures.

This was such a great book. Zeyn Joukhadar has such a lyrical way with words that fill his stories with a lot of details and descriptions that make for a fun read. I went in expecting alternating chapters but I should have realized that since Nour starts out telling the story of Rawiya it made more sense that each chapter after the first couple would start with a second from Rawiya and then continue on with Nour’s travels. I really enjoyed reading about all of the characters as they made their way across the lands. A lot of things happen along the way and I don’t want to spoil anything but I was happy with how everything ends up for both Nour and Rawiya. Be sure to read the notes chapter at the end for some interesting details as well.

“The Exiled Fleet” Review

The cover is black with stars and a spaceship at the center of the cover. The ship is in the process of being destroyed with an orange light cutting cross the middle of it horizontally. Above the light the ship is nothing but a cloud of debris. On the bottom is the rest of the ship still whole. The top half of the cover is take up by the title which is over the cloud of debris. At the bottom, below the ship, are the words "while they stood guard humanity turned its back" and below that is the author's name. Full Title: “The Exiled Fleet: The Divide No. 2”
Written by J. S. Dewes
Published by Tor Books, August 2021
420 pages
Completed July 3, 2024

The Sentinels narrowly escaped the collapsing edge of the Divide. They have mustered a few other surviving Sentinels, but with no engines they have no way to leave the edge of the universe before they starve. Adequin Rake has gathered a team to find the materials they’ll need to get everyone out. To do that they’re going to need new allies and evade a ruthless enemy. Some of them will not survive.

This was such a fun read – I really love all the characters. A lot more did get explained in this book than the previous one but some of the terms being used are confusing and could do with more of an explanation. A cheatsheet of terms would be helpful at the end of the book to explain the differen types of soldiers as they’re referred to a few different ways. There are a few different groups that seem to be controlled by both humans and the aliens? I’m honestly not sure? Regardless it’s a good book and I’m looking forward to reading the final book when it comes out.

“Children of Anguish and Anarchy” Review

A young black woman is on the cover looking backwards over her shoulder. She is wearing a silver and gold head covering that covers part of her face. The title is shown at the bottom of the cover and the author's name at the top.Full title: “Children of Anguish and Anarchy: Legacy of Orïsha No. 3”
Written by Tomi Adeyemi
Published by Henry Holt Books for Young Readers, June 2024
368 pages
Completed June 29, 2024

When Zélie seized the royal palace that fateful night, she thought her battles had come to an end. The monarchy finally fell. The maji rose again. Zélie never expected to find herself locked in a cage and trapped on a foreign ship. Now warriors with iron skulls traffic her and her people across the seas, far from their homeland.

But everything changes when Zélie meets King Baldyr, her true captor and the man who has ravaged entire civilizations to find her. The ruler of the Skulls, Baldyr’s quest to harness Zélie’s strength sends Zélie, Amari, and Tzain searching for allies in foreign lands.

But as Baldyr closes in, catastrophe charges Orïsha’s shores. It will take everything Zélie has to face her final enemy and save her people before the Skulls annihilate them for good.

I really enjoyed this book! I didn’t mind the shift in plot away from Orïsha because it made sense there was more going on beyond the borders. I did feel like some ideas could have been built up a little more but the world building was still interesting. The ending did feel a little abrupt but overall I liked the story it told. It’s been a little too long since I read the previous two books so I’m not sure yet how I feel about it as the conclusion to the trilogy. I’ll have to read all three books again at some point.

“Gideon the Ninth” Review

Gideon the Ninth book cover showing a person standing holding a sword in one hand wearing all black with red hair and face painted as a skull. They are surrounded by parts of many different skeletons on a black background. The Title of the book is at the bottom with the author's name on top. Written by Tamsyn Muir
Published by Tor.com, September 2019
464 pages
Completed June 27, 2024

Brought up by unfriendly, ossifying nuns, ancient retainers, and countless skeletons, Gideon is ready to abandon a life of servitude and an afterlife as a reanimated corpse. She packs up her sword, her shoes, and her dirty magazines, and prepares to launch her daring escape. But her childhood nemesis won’t set her free without a service.

Harrowhark Nonagesimus, Reverend Daughter of the Ninth House and bone witch extraordinaire, has been summoned into action. The Emperor has invited the heirs to each of his loyal Houses to a deadly trial of wits and skill. If Harrowhark succeeds she will be become an immortal, all-powerful servant of the Resurrection, but no necromancer can ascend without their cavalier. Without Gideon’s sword, Harrow will fail, and the Ninth House will die.

I read this for one of my Discord book clubs and it’s ultimately not my cup of tea. I tried to give it a fair chance but the personalities of the main characters and the writing style made it harder to get through than I like. I also ended up needing the Wikipedia for the book series to keep track of all of the characters. All of the characters were referred to by first name, last name, nickname, or sometimes only a description, depending on who was talking and some had similar names, which made it hard to keep track. That said there were some interesting parts, the world building seemed interesting if not fully described, and I did like how the relationship between Gideon and Harrowhark developed despite my frustration with them in the beginning. I don’t believe I’ll continue the series at this time, but you never know.

“Memory’s Legion” Review

The cover shows a large red planet in the center (possibly Mars) with a large asteroid in front of it and a ship below and to the right shooting a laser or something at it Full Title: “Memory’s Legion: The Complete Expanse Story Collection”
Written by James S.A. Corey
Published by Orbit Books, March 2022
432 pages
Completed June 20, 2024

On Mars, a scientist experiments with a new engine that will one day become the drive that fuels humanity’s journey into the stars.

On an asteroid station, a group of prisoners are oblivious to the catastrophe that awaits them.

On a future Earth beset by overpopulation, pollution, and poverty, a crime boss desperately seeks to find a way off planet.

On an alien world, a human family struggles to establish a colony and make a new home.

All these stories and more are featured in this unmissable collection of short fiction set in the hardscrabble world of The Expanse.

This is a good collection of short stories that take place throughout the timeline of the novel series – with some set pre-series and one post-series. Overall I think they’re good stories but I definitly like some more than others. I especially like the post-series story “The Sins of Our Fathers” as it answers a question about a certain minor character from one of the earlier books. While this collection was published after the final book was published, all but the last story were previously published elsewhere. The included short stories are:

“The Butcher of Anderson Station”
“Gods of Risk”
“The Churn”
“The Vital Abyss”
“Strange Dogs”
“The Sins of Our Fathers” – this story is new for the collection and is set post-series.

Though some are pre-series like “Drive”, “The Butcher of Anderson Station” and “The Churn” I think they make more sense read later on in the series rather than starting with them. The authors* have written one additional short story “The Last Flight of the Cassandra” but it remains exclusive to the Expanse Roleplaying Game.

* James S. A. Corey is actually two authors who wrote the series together Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck

“Leviathan Falls” Review

The background of the book cover is mostly yellow but taken up with the sides of couple ships one larger one at the bottom corner and sides while another is above and to the right. The title is at the top with the authors name at the bottom.Full Title: “Leviathan Falls: The Expanse No. 9”
Written by James S.A. Corey
Published by Orbit Books, December 2021
528 pages
Completed June 15, 2024

The Laconian Empire has fallen, setting the thirteen hundred solar systems free from the rule of Winston Duarte. But the ancient enemy that killed the gate builders is awake, and the war against our universe has begun again.

In the dead system of Adro, Elvi Okoye leads a desperate scientific mission to understand what the gate builders were and what destroyed them, even if it means compromising herself and the half-alien children who bear the weight of her investigation. Through the wide-flung systems of humanity, Colonel Aliana Tanaka hunts for Duarte’s missing daughter. . . and the shattered emperor himself. And on the Rocinante, James Holden and his crew struggle to build a future for humanity out of the shards and ruins of all that has come before.

As nearly unimaginable forces prepare to annihilate all human life, Holden and a group of unlikely allies discover a last, desperate chance to unite all of humanity, with the promise of a vast galactic civilization free from wars, factions, lies, and secrets if they win.

But the price of victory may be worse than the cost of defeat.

I feel like this book was a good ending for the series (if you choose to continue reading after the end of book six). I did think the first half or so of the book dragged on a bit. There’s a lot of build up and figuring out of what’s happening to read through. Plus a couple side trips as various things are dealt with. The last few chapters are definitely faster as what has to happen becomes clear. I don’t want to completely spoil the plot of what happens but Jim Holden makes a choice that is actually very fitting for him. The epilogue is also a pretty spot on ending for another character.

Overall I think this is a good series – the crew is great and their adventures are fun to read. I stand by what I said in the first couple reviews about not liking some choices that were made but it’s still good series if one likes epic adventures in space.

“Tiamat’s Wrath” Review

The book cover is taken up by various parts of buildings and lights and other shapes that might be parts of spaceships. There is a lot of silver and orange in the cover. The author's name is at the top with the book title below in the middle.  Full Title: “Tiamat’s Wrath: The Expanse No. 8”
Written by James S.A. Corey
Published by Orbit Books, March 2019
544 pages
Completed June 8, 2024

Thirteen hundred gates have opened to solar systems around the galaxy. But as humanity builds its interstellar empire in the alien ruins, the mysteries and threats grow deeper.

In the dead systems where gates lead to stranger things than alien planets, Elvi Okoye begins a desperate search to discover the nature of a genocide that happened before the first human beings existed, and to find weapons to fight a war against forces at the edge of the imaginable. But the price of that knowledge may be higher than she can pay.

At the heart of the empire, Teresa Duarte prepares to take on the burden of her father’s godlike ambition. The sociopathic scientist Paolo Cortázar and the mephistophelian prisoner James Holden are only two of the dangers in a palace thick with intrigue, but Teresa has a mind of her own and secrets even her father the emperor doesn’t guess.

And throughout the wide human empire, the scattered crew of the Rocinante fights a brave rear-guard action against Duarte’s authoritarian regime. Memory of the old order falls away, and a future under Laconia’s eternal rule – and with it, a battle that humanity can only lose – seems more and more certain. Because against the terrors that lie between worlds, courage and ambition will not be enough…

Often times the middle book (or movie series) of a trilogy is more of a bridge to fighting the big bad than a story that resolves anything. Not so with this book. Which is why I enjoy it a lot. Granted it has its slow parts and some things are a little tedious but it’s a good book and I enjoy all the different point of view characters. Without spoiling too much a good chunk of the primary problem is resolved. I love the way the crew of the Rocinante are fighting their own fights as they work their way back together. I like that we see one of the pervious characters returned (Elvi Okoye) and a new character (Teresa) who has to figure out where she belongs in the universe.

“Loka” Review

The cover shows a person and a small machine that looks somewhat like a dog in a valley between cliff sides with large patches of green up the sides. The two figures are in the distance standing on a rock looking upwards at the blue sky visible outside of the valley.  The book title is written from top to bottom one letter at a time and the author's name is at the very top.Full Title: “Loka: The Alloy Era No. 2”
Written by S. B. Divya
Published by 47North, August 2024
367 pages
Completed June 4, 2024

Akshaya is the hybrid daughter of a human mother and an alloy, a genetically engineered posthuman―and she’s the future of life on the planet Meru. But not if the determined Akshaya can help it. Before choosing where her future lies, she wants to circumnavigate the most historic orb in the universe―the birthplace of humanity: Earth.

Akshaya’s parents reluctantly agree to her anthropological challenge―one with no assistance from alloy devices, transport, or wary alloys themselves who manage humanity and the regions of Earth called Loka. It’s just Akshaya; her equally bold best friend, Somya; and a carefully planned itinerary threading continent by continent across a wondrous terrain of things she’s never seen: blue skies, sunrises, snowcapped mountains, and roiling oceans.

As the adventure unfolds, the travelers discover love and new friendships, but they also learn the risks of a planet that’s not entirely welcoming. On this trek―rapturous, dangerous, and life-changing―Akshaya will discover what human existence really means.

This was a great book. It was a very quick read and I enjoyed reading Akshaya and Somya’s adventure around the world. Akshaya is a very typical teenager who wants to be able to make her own choices about everything and not feel forced to conform to what her mother wants for her. Both she and her mother have a lot to learn and do so throughout the course of the book. I really enjoyed the additional aspects of how disability was used. Like her mother Akshaya has sickle cell anemia and must figure out how to work with it on Earth where it’s more disabling than it would be on Meru due to different conditions. The entire story is about self discovery and figuring out where you belong in the universe.

While this book is a sequel to the previous book “Meru” – Akshaya’s parents are two of the main characters from that book – “Loka” works well enough as a standalone novel. I think anyone could read it without having read the first book. Though some plot points might be helpful to know for additional context.

Thank you to NetGalley, 47North and S.B. Divya for access to the ARC in exchange for an honest review.

“Persepolis Rising” Review

The cover is taken up mostly by the edges of two ships on the left and right flying forwards away from the view. There are a lot of silver panels with some read and blue colorings. The rest of the background is mostly orange with some red highlights. The title of the book is at the center with the authors name at the top. Full Title: “Persepolis Rising: The Expanse No. 7”
Written by James S.A. Corey
Published by Orbit Books, December 2017
622 Pages
Completed June 2, 2024

In the thousand-sun network of humanity’s expansion, new colony worlds are struggling to find their way. Every new planet lives on a knife edge between collapse and wonder, and the crew of the aging gunship Rocinante have their hands more than full keeping the fragile peace.

In the vast space between Earth and Jupiter, the inner planets and belt have formed a tentative and uncertain alliance still haunted by a history of wars and prejudices. On the lost colony world of Laconia, a hidden enemy has a new vision for all of humanity and the power to enforce it.

New technologies clash with old as the history of human conflict returns to its ancient patterns of war and subjugation. But human nature is not the only enemy, and the forces being unleashed have their own price. A price that will change the shape of humanity — and of the Rocinante — unexpectedly and forever…

It’s 30 years after the previous book and everything is changing once again for the entire solar system. Given the current climate right now with everything going on I feel like I struggled with reading this one more than I did the first time I read it a few years ago. It’s a good look at how quickly everything can fall apart when a stronger power wants to take over everything and sees themselves as better than everyone else. I feel like in some ways the series is better ended with book 6 but in other ways this final trilogy of books will resolve some of the plot elements regarding the aliens who created the rings and what happened to them. It also changes everything for the crew of the Rocinante and their final fate is told in the next books where book 6 ends with them as they are – traveling together.

“Babylon’s Ashes” Review

Most of the cover is taken up by the side of a grey ship showing a lot of random parts. At the bottom corner a purple nebula with stars is visible and at the top there is a ring which the ship is flying into. The title is in the middle of the cover with the authors name at the bottom.Full Title: “Babylon’s Ashes: The Expanse No. 6”
Written by James S.A. Corey
Published by Orbit Books, December 2016
538 pages
Completed May 28, 2024

The Free Navy – a violent group of Belters in black-market military ships – has crippled Earth and begun a campaign of piracy and violence among the outer planets. The colony ships heading for the thousand new worlds on the far side of the alien ring gates are easy prey, and no single navy remains strong enough to protect them.

James Holden and his crew know the strengths and weaknesses of this new force better than anyone. Outnumbered and outgunned, the embattled remnants of the old political powers call on the Rocinante for a desperate mission to reach Medina Station at the heart of the gate network.

But the new alliances are as flawed as the old, and the struggle for power has only just begun. As the chaos grows, an alien mystery deepens. Pirate fleets, mutiny, and betrayal may be the least of the Rocinante’s problems. And in the uncanny spaces past the ring gates, the choices of a few damaged and desperate people may determine the fate of more than just humanity.

I enjoyed most of this book – especially the ending resolution for the Belters who weren’t involved with the Free Navy. But I feel like some things were lost in having so many point of view characters. It ended up being harder to keep track of what was going on and who was doing what. With some point of view characters I wasn’t entirely sure who they were. That said it probably makes sense for this type of story because of how big the solar system is and all the people involved in the conflict. I did think central conflict is resolved a little too easily but given how baldy it was going to go there wasn’t much of a choice. I wish at this point the characters understood more about the alien technology they’re using but they don’t – and that’s actually going to be a problem later.

There’s a side plot that was going on during the conflict with the Free Navy – a group of Martian ships disappeared through one of the gates. It’s the reason why there’s three more novels in the series. That said one could end here with the ending of this book. There’s a 30 year gap between this book and the next and lot of things have to be rebuilt in the solar system.